tv U.S. Senate CSPAN August 1, 2011 5:00pm-5:54pm EDT
not in a quorum call. the presiding officer: we're not. mr. harkin: i ask that two members of my staff be granted floor privileges for the duration of today's proceedings. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. harkin: mr. president, the debt ceiling agreement that will soon come before the senate is a clear and present danger to the fragile, indeed faltering economic recovery. to say that this is the wrong policy at the wrong time is a gross understatement. you have to ask the question is anyone paying attention? we just learned that economic growth fell to a 1.3% annual rate in the second quarter and the first quarter growth was
revised downward sharply to .4%, virtually flat. the economy created a meager 15,000 jobs in the month of june, again flat, barely even keeping up with population growth. last month, nearly 25 million americans could not find full-time employment. let me repeat that. 25 million americans are effectively out of work. state and local governments continue to slash funding and jobs at a stunning pace, destroying an estimated 500,000 jobs in the last two years. let me repeat that. in the last two years, state and local governments have destroyed an estimated 500,000 jobs. now, those are consumers, too. those are people that shop and buy cars and clothes and houses and go out to eat at restaurants and things like that. according to an article in today's "wall street journal,"
in the first half of 2011, all government spending fell at a 3.5% annual rate, enough to knock off 3/4 of a percent ang point off the g.d.p. now, the so-called budget deal is proposing to slash funding and investment by $2.4 trillion over the next ten years, an unprecedented step that will further destroy demand and directly kill millions of public and private sector jobs. this is what muhammad l.arien, chief executive of the bond investment firm of pimco said just yesterday on one of the network shows in regards to this budget deal. he said, and i quote -- "unemployment will be higher than it would have been otherwise." this budget deal we're talking
about, unemployment will be higher because of it. growth will be lower than it would be otherwise, and inequality will be worse than it would be otherwise. he added, "we have a very weak economy, so withdrawing more spending at this stage will make it even weaker." mr. president, for months now, washington politicians have been distracted by the phony, manufactured crisis about raising the debt ceiling. this city has been obsessed, obsessed with this. the rest of the country, the rest of the country, for very good reason, is more concerned with a far more urgent deficit than the budget deficit. they are more concerned about the jobs deficit. 25 million people out of work.
in a recent cbs news/"new york times" poll, 53% of the public polled named the jobs and economy as the most important problem, while only 7% named the deficit. so, mr. president, i oppose this misbegotten, misguided deal that they have conjured up in return for raising the debt ceiling. i don't oppose raising the debt ceiling. i want to make that clear. i believe we have an obligation, a constitutional obligation to pay our debts and to make good on our debts as we have done since the revolutionary war. what i am objecting to is the deal that was put together in order to permit us to perform
our constitutional obligation. i oppose it for four reasons. reason number one is that this deal will destroy millions of jobs as i have said in both the public and private sector, and by shutting off federal funding and investment, a critical engine sustaining our sputtering economy, it could easily plunge america back into a recession. please read your history. see what happened in 1937 and 1938. we were coming out of the depression, and all of a sudden congress decided to tighten down the screws and plunged us right back into a recession. secondly, i have always advocated a balanced approach to deficit reduction, including both spending cuts and revenue increases, but this deal, the one that we're going to have before us this evening, i guess, rejects a balanced approach. it rejects any sense of equity
and fairness. as my friend, the senator from new jersey, said earlier on the floor, i heard him, senator menendez said this is not fair. are we concerned about fairness, or is this just sort of passe? is that something that we shouldn't even be concerned about, whether something is fair or not fair? well, i think we have to be concerned about fairness. this is the message that's coming across loudly and clearly. and my phone calls coming into my office, my emails that i'm getting from iowa and around the country. this deal offends people's basic sense of fairness, that congress would slash funding for things like student loans and cancer research and head start programs and vista and legal services or
cut essential funding for seniors, senior volunteer programs, senior centers, meals on wheels. cutting support for people with disabilities. cutting the safety net for a lot of the most vulnerable people in our society, we can do that but we can't, we just simply can't ask one more dollar of shared sacrifice from the millionaires and billionaires who have made so much money in the last decade and who have received, thanks to this congress, huge tax breaks. it is not fair. this deal is not fair. third, i oppose this deal for the simple reason that i oppose paying ransom to hostage takers. since the 1930's, congress has routinely raised the national debt 89 times including seven
times during the recent presidency of george bush, 18 times under ronald reagan. did we hold -- did democrats hold the economy hostage? did we say, oh, no, we're not going to raise the debt unless you do this, this, this, and this? no. no, we always -- there's always a skirmish on raising the debt ceiling. ever since i've been here, since the past 35 years that i've been here, 36 years now. always a little skirmish on it but you know how it's always worked? if there's a democratic president, then republicans have to come up with half of the votes, 50% of the votes to raise the debt ceiling. if there's a republican president, democrats have to come up with 50% of the votes. that's the way it's always worked. so that one side doesn't blame the other side for raising the national debt. well, that's not the way it's
working this time. that's not the way it's working this time. this time, congressional republicans are holding our nation, our nation hostage. threatening to default on our national debt, plunge america into an abyss that we don't even know what would possibly happen, that would affect our bond rating for years in the future, affect the interest rates that everyone pays on their car loans or student loans, housing and everything else. they would plunge america into that unless their demands are met. let's be clear. this is not a negotiating tactic. this is blackmail. this is blackmail. republicans have basically said we will inflict grievous harm on the economy if democrats do not meet our demands. well, president obama said it
earlier, we're not going to go into default. so with this kind of a lopsided deal, the ransom is paid, the hostage is released. but what a terrible precedent this sets. make no mistake, republicans will use these same despicable tactics down the road in the future. now, if i sound like i'm picking too much on republicans, let me just say with this kind of precedent, i can see a republican president -- and there will be another one sometime -- i hope not too soon, but there will be a republican president, and there will be a democratic congress, and democrats will use this as a precedent. we'll hold it hostage. is this the way we want to start running our country? what a terrible, terrible precedent this sets. it reminds me the press department that was set starting back in the 1980's with the use
of the filibuster here in the senate. i say to the president here that i have for years advocated that we do away with the filibuster over a short period of time, that we allow things to be slowed down but not be stopped because of a filibuster. i didn't just say this now. i said it in 1996, if i'm not mistaken, and it was right after we had lost control of the senate, the democrats, i mean, and republicans had taken over. and i even advocated doing away with the filibuster then because i said it's -- it's escalating. it's sort of a tit for tat during when the republicans were in charge, we filibustered and when we got in charge they filibustered but they added a few more and when we got in charge, we filibustered but we did it a little bit more than what they did and this went back
and forth. i predicted in 1996 that if we don't nip that in the bud, it's going to get out of hand and sure enough, it got out of hand. that's what i mean. that's what happens. you set precedents like that, and there's no end to it. so i think the precedent that has been set, the precedent that has been set here bodes ill for our country. not just for republicans but for democrats, too. president obama had an alternative, however. to capitulating to the republicans' hostage taking and their blackmail. in remarks here in the senate on saturday and many times i urged the president to respond to this unprecedented threat by taking the unprecedented action under the 14th amendment to the constitution of basically eliminating the debt ceiling. i know the occupant of the
chair, the distinguished senator from delaware has advocated this for some time also. it's deeply regrettable, deeply regrettable that president obama preemptively took this option off the table. throughout history, where meaning is unclear, where recipe preps dent is nonexistent, the american people through their elected officials and through their president have acted boldly to protect the interests of the united states and to save our country. now, i've heard it said that people around the president at the white house well, they got attorneys to weigh in on this and the justice department. i understand that the vice president said this morning to the house caucus that the authority was unclear. as to whether the president could take such action.
again, i repeat, where there is no precedent, where the meaning is unclear, we can't run across the street to the supreme court and ask for an advicery -- advisory opinion. they don't give those advisory opinions. but when the country's future, when it's in a crisis mode and our future is at stake, i believe the president can act boldly, should act boldly, must act boldly. both to prevent the country from falling into a crisis, but also to prevent this kind of hostage taking, this kind of blake. that -- blackmail that we either do it this way or we won't raise the debt ceiling. i pointed out in my speech saturday, i'll point out again, thomas jefferson --
thomas jefferson concluded the treaty with the louisiana purchase, and he himself wrote letters -- and i have copies of those letters, i've read them, letters to senator breckenridge. anguishing over whether he had the constitutional right to do this. and in one letter he said i believe congress is going to pass a constitutional amendment and send it to states for ratification before i can do this. but finally jefferson came to the realization that if he didn't take this action, the whole western part of the united states at that time might never become part of the united states. think about it. we might have been facing a part of the united states that belonged to spain or to france if the they ever worked out their problems. so jefferson acted boldly. he acted boldly. in fact, there were critics at
that time hoe said he didn't have the authority authority to do that. they had a vote in the house of representatives on that, by the way,. carried by a couple of votes. abraham lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation. there's nothing in the constitution that gave him the power, the authority to do that. but he did it. he did it to save the country. and to right an egregious wrong. more recently, more recently, franklin roosevelt -- this is in the 1930's. you can read about it in the history books. in the 1930's it was clear the that if we didn't come to the assistance of great britain, it was going to fall to nazi germany. not that they needed our men, but they needed our material. they needed the kind of material that we could supply in a short
amount of time so that they could defend great britain against nazi germany. so franklin roosevelt concluded a lend-lease program. that's what it was called, the lend-lease program. even president roosevelt at the time said in his writings, he considered this probably unconstitutional. but he had to do it to save our country. because it was a crisis. and he acted boldly to do it. now, there was no clear authority for him to do 25, but as i point out, there was no prohibition against him doing that, either. there was no prohibition against explicitly in the constitution to prohibit thomas jefferson from making the louisiana purchase. there was no express prohibition against lincoln signing the amans makes proclamation. there was no express prohibition against franklin roosevelt --
signing the lend-lease deal. so again i point out where meaning is unclear and the 14th amendment the meaning is kind of clear but we do have a court case, perry v. u.s., 1935. read it. read what chief justice hughes said in his opinion. he said quite clearly -- quite clearly that congress has the power to borrow money. that's a good thing. he says it may be used to save our country sometime but he said congress does not have the authority to alter or destroy those obligations. we cannot alter or destroy those obligations once we made them. so as i argued here saturday and i continue to argue, that if congress either through action or inaction destroys or alters those debt obligations, then i think it's up to the president
of the united states to step into the breach. now, is there clear authority for the president to do this? no. i submit there's no clear prohibition against him, either, to do this. and so when i cast my vote later today against this deal, i'm not casting a vote to send our country into default. i would not do that. if i thought that my vote was the determining vote to send this country into default, i would not do that. that's not the way i see it, mr. president. the way i see it is even if we turn this down, the president can use his presidential power and authority to sign an executive order getting rid of the debt ceiling so that constitutionally we make good on our debt obligations.
read perry v. u.s. i think you can see it there. so if this deal goes down, either in the house or the senate, the president can act before tomorrow. to save this country. he may not want to do it, but he should do it and he should have put that out there a long time ago. each one of the three cases i mentioned -- jefferson, lincoln, and franklin roosevelt, three great presidents took action to save the country. and they did the right thing. mr. president, my fourth reason for opposing this deal is because in truth it's about reducing the deficit. first and foremost, this deal is about preserving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest in our society. bear in mind that this is the singular purpose and goal of
today's republican party, not reducing the deficit, but preserving and expanding tax breaks for the wealthy. here's why i say that. back in december, last december, when republicans demanded a deal to preserve the bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, that deal added a whopping $800 billion to deficits in just two years. this year, 2011, next year, 2012. here we have it. we're being asked to raise the debt ceiling. a big portion of that -- i've seen estimates as much as a third of that -- is to pay for the $800 billion that's going in tax breaks to the wealthiest just in two years, 2011, this year and next year, because of that deal last december where the bush-era tax cuts were extended for two years, the
wealthiest -- get $800 billion in tax breaks. for two years. so now what we're being asked to do is to pay for these two years of tax breaks to the wealthiest by slashing funds for the most vulnerable in our society. so, that's the game here. the game here is to preserve those tax breaks, even though we have to slash funding. for the most vulnerable. in december, republicans' number-one priority was preserving tax breaks for the wealthy, even if that meant adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. do you get that? so last december, republicans said we've got to extend the bush-era tax breaks two years. it added $800 billion to our deficit. i didn't hear a peep out of th them, not one peep from the
republicans. now, in recent weeks and months, republicans have repeatedly rejected grand bargains to reduce future deficits by nearly $4 trillion. now, why did they reject the reid proposal and proposals by the administration and others? because each one would have required some modest sacrifice from millionaires and billionaires to help pay for those tax breaks. republicans had to oppose this. mr. president, in his remarks last evening announcing this debt ceiling bad deal, as i call it -- bad deal -- president obama said the result quais -- quote -- "would be the lowest level of domestic spending since
dwight eisenhower was spending." that bears repeating. president obama said the result -- quote -- "would be the lowest level of annual domestic spending since dwight eisenhower was president." well, for the record, mr. president, the american people do not want to take down federal funding and investment to the level of the eisenhower years. to do so would be tantamount to repudiating all that we have done since then to make our country better and more fair. to make our country more of a middle-class society, more a country where people who can be born into poverty, can aspire to be in the middle class, can get a good education, good health care, decent housing, a head start. to return to the spending of dwight eisenhower would be
tantamount to repudiating the great society programs. now, we always hear from our republican friends how the great society was a failure, what a failure the great society was. well, mr. president, i respectfully disagree. head start a failure? it's a great society program. medicaid? of course, medicaid now is exempted out of this. but how about the elementary and secondary education act, hm? title 1, where we have agreed to put money out to the states for helping low-income students, schools in poor areas, great society program? how about the higher education act, student loans?
helped a lot of kids go to college. i have here a list of some of the great society programs. civil rights act of 1964, the voting rights act of 1965, the age discrimination in employment act of 1967, job corps. that's another one that's going to get slashed is job corps, vista, vista, upward bound, food stamps, now called the snap program, that keeps low-income people having a decent diet during economic downturns. community action programs that do so much for liheap, low income heating, energy and assistance programs, community action programs that do so much for the elderly and the poor. i mentioned the elementary and secondary education act, the higher education act of 1965, the bilingual education act to help kids have english learners
as a second language. i mentioned medicare and medicaid. how about the clean water act, clean air act, the land and water conservation act, motor vehicle safety act, the wholesome meat act, truth-in-lending act, and on and on? i'm not going to read them all. these are all parts -- these are all parts of the great society programs. they made our country what it is today. we have cleaner air, cleaner water, better educated kids, better health care, better cancer research, all kinds of research done at the n.i.h. these programs, along with social security, undergird the middle class in our society and create a ladder of opportunity to allow disadvantaged americans to work up and become part of the middle class. these programs define america as
a decent, compassionate, and, yes, as a great society. the president is sorely mistaken if he believes that the american people want to slash the budget to the level of the eisenhower years and turn back the clock on half a century of progress. mr. president, i hope that's not what you meant. i hope that's not what you meant. to turn back spending to the level of the eisenhower years is not to me a bragging point. that is not something positive. to me that is a big negative. what we need to do is to have a better and fairer tax system to pay for all the things that make our society great. we're not having the right debate here. we're not having the right debate. we haven't had the right debate for a long time.
the debate ought to be about what's happening to our society. i just read a recent interview with bill moyers. boy moyers was asked what his greatest fear was, and his greatest fear was that we in america would accept greater and greater inequality, wealth inequality, as the norm. that we would accept a greater and greater inequality as norm normal. well, here's maybe what he was talking about. from 2005-2009, the median net worth -- median net worth -- of hispanic households went down 66%. the median net worth of african-american households went down 53%.
the median net worth of white caucasian households went down 16%. the median net worth right now of a white caucasian family in america is 20 times that of an african-american family, 18 times that of an hispanic fami family. this is twice the gap since before the recession and it's the biggest gap since this data was collected by the bureau of labor statistics since 1984. do you see what's happening? our country is pulling apart. fewer and fewer people at the top getting more and more weal wealth. more and more people at the bottom, destroying the middle class. from 2005-2009, the median net worth -- and i keep stressing median net worth. what that means is you take all the things you own, your house,
your car, your tv sets, all the stuff you own and you subtract that from all your debts and your obligations, mortgages, things like that. things like that. the median net worth from 2005-2009 of african-american households went from $12,124 to $5,677. the median net worth of hispanic households went from $18,359 to $6,325. keep those figures in mind. african-american median net worth of households in 2009, $5,677. hispanic households, $6,325. that's their net worth. that's everything. whitehouswhite households, 2009m
2005-2009, net worth went from $134,992 to $113,149. so as of just two years ago, the median net worth of white household was, indeed, 20 times -- 20 times -- that of african-american households, 18 times that of hispanic. here's hispanic net worth, $6,325, median for whites, $113,14. $113,149. again, that wealth, as i say, is the sum of all their assets, their houses, their cars, their bank accounts minus their debts, including mortgages, loans and credit card debt. the share of wealth.
in 1988, the top 5% of america americans' wealth in terms of wealth, the top 5% had $8 trillion in assets. that was 1980. in 2010, that same top -- that top 5% had $40 trillion in assets. and that's more than 60% of the national wealth. the other 95% of america has the remaining 40%. jim wallace, president of sojourners, reverend jim walla wallace, said -- and i quote -- "a budget is a moral document. we're making choices," he added, "such as whether to cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing or whether to retain a
similar amount in tax deductions for mortgages on vacation homes for the wealthy." as senator menendez said earlier, it's not fair. this is the debate and the discussion we should be having in america, in the senate, in the house. this huge disparity in wealth in this country. and it's getting worse year by year, and yet our republican friends say give more tax breaks to those at the top, give more tax breaks. mr. president, the american people get it. they understand this. they know there's 25 million of them out of work. they know that wealth disparity is opening up a huge gap. the middle class is being
destroyed in our country, destroyed. and this so-called budget deal is going to make it even harder for anyone to succeed in becoming a middle-class person. so i, mr. president, again just want to say that the most important thing we can do right now, the single-most important thing we can do is, i hate to say this, not -- quote -- "balance the budget" -- when which we're not going to do right now, obviously, this just raises the debt ceiling. that's not the most important thing. slashing government spending is not the most important thing right now. the most important thing is to marshal the forces of the federal government to put people back to work, to get jobs going in our society. and there's a lot of work to be done.
there's highways to be built and bridges to be built and schools to be remodeled, new technologies, new power systems, new clean energy, a smart grid, cleaning up the environment. and anyone who's suffered through the heat wave in the last couple three weeks knows something's going on in this country. something's going on. so we need more clean energy. we need to make sure that those children who are born today whose parents don't have anything, whose net worth is so little they don't have anything, to make sure that they have decent health, that they have early education programs and head start programs, to make sure that every child has the best school and the best teachers in america.
to make sure that our streets are safe, that our neighborhoods are safe so that families can go out and walk in the evening or at night and feel safe. make sure that the food we eat is duly inspected so that we can have a high assurance that we're not going to get sick. make sure that the drugs that we need, the medicines we need are affordable, are affordable. there's a lot of jobs that need to be done in this country, and we can put a lot of people to work. that should be the role of the federal government. now people say, well, i've heard it many times, government doesn't create wealth; only
private sector creates wealth. the government consumers wealt e government consumes wealth, it doesn't create it. aid hearing in my committee about a month or so ago, the "help" committee. and we had the national institutes of health down, dr. frances collins, head of n.i.h., had an interesting story to tell. it had to do with the human genome project, mapping and sequencing the human gene. we did it, we did it. tremendous, tremendous scientific accomplishment. dr. collins headed that effort. so we mapped and sequenced the human gene -- the batel organization analyzed this and sthaid we had put in taxpayers' money, about $3.8 billion. $3.8 billion of your tax dollars into this.
in the last ten years the private sector, because of this research that was done and mapping and sequencing the human gene, the private sector has put in over $790 billion investment, creating thousands of jobs all over this country. making huge breakthroughs in the genetic causes of so many diseases and finding interventions to help people -- to help cure diseases and keep people healthy. it never -- that -- private investment never would have been done if we hadn't put $3.8 billion into n.i.h. to map and sequence the human gene. the interstate highway system would never have been completed by any private company, but we did it, through the power of the federal government. and you know what?
it wasn't federal government workers that were out there working on that highway. it was young kids like me, when i was a kid working out on the interstate highway system making money to go to college in the fall. and i didn't work for the government. i worked for a private contractor. so there's plenty of jobs that need to be done and we need to put people to work. that is the single-most important thing we can be about a understand yet when we're doing -- and what we're doing here, as i quoted earlier, we're actually going to make it hard harder. economists say that the deal could complicate the task of putting peel to work. there is broad agreement that the united states needs to pay down its detects but most economists say the government should have wait add year or more for the economy to strengthen. we sure miss add big window of opportunity to reduce our debt if in those strong years when
asset prices were booming. this time is different. this time, instead, we're stuck trying to do it now when the economy is so weak, and we shouldn't be cutting and slashing. we should be investing and putting people to work. so, madam president, again, i urge my completion to reject this misguided -- i urge my colleagues to reject this misguided, counterproductive debt ceiling deal. let's stop taking hostage the united states until we get what we want. mark my word, if we do this, it's going to happen again. it's going to happen again. and then maybe sometime when there's a republican president and the democrats are in charge, then the democrats will turn on the screws and we'll hold them hostage for something. a terrible way to run a country. a terrible way to run a democracy. so i urge my colleagues to
reject this misguided, counterproductive debt-reduction deal. let's join together to produce a truly balanced approach to bring deficits under control, one that first invests in putting people to work and then, as the economy begins to grow, and the private sector begins to invest, then we start cutting spending, reducing the deficit. but let's have a balanced approach that will allow us to continue to invest in education, infrastructure, research, the other things that will create jobs and boost our economy. this is a job killer. this debt ceiling deal is a job killer and a lost economists agree with that. so we should reject it. and, mr. president, you have the pen and you have the executive
order, and you can get rid that have debt ceiling. take a bold -- a bold action to save our country and say, no, we're not going to let any group of congressmen or senators of any political party take us hostage again. madam president, i -- madam president i, i ask unanimous consent that the time until 8:00 p.m. be equally divided between the two leaders or her designees with senators permitted to speak for up to ten minutes each. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. harkin: i yield the floor. mr. carper: madam president? , i ask unanimous consent that the privilege of the floor be granted to the following member of my staff. his name is robin dudder. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. carper: thank you. mr. carper: madam president, you've been there in the chair for a couple of minutes, so i was going to ask you what's going on here today, but i think you have a pretty good idea. you and i have speants fair
amount of time discussing -- spent a fair amount of time discussion and thinking through what we ought to do in light of these big deficits. we had the privilege of serving together as governors. we had the requirement to submit balanced budgets and balance the outflows and revenues on an ongoing basis. in some cases we had pretty good fiscal controls in place to help us. the rules were in place to help us, whether constitutional or statutory. in some cases, not. in your state -- i think my state has a reputation for being a fiscally sound operation. i became state treasurer in 1976-77. the presiding officer has heard me say we had the worst credit rating in the country. we managed to climb from there to be a aaa credit rating. i am very proud of that. so i am relieved to see that it looks like we've in place a course that will enable us to preserve the aaa credit rating for our country and for our
states around the united states. one of our members of our caucus said something the other day that really struck a chord with with respect to deficits and the debt ceiling. he said, we need a solution, not a deal. that's what he said. we need a solution, not a deal. i could not agree more. i could not agree more. meanwhile i'm going to vote for what is being represented to us probably tomorrow -- what is being presented to us probably tomorrow. i don't regard it as a solution in the true sense. it is closer to a deal. so they argue whether -- some may argue whether or not it is a deal or a not-so-good deal. i see it as a deal, into the solution. the thing that is difficult for me is there was a solution out there. it was a solution that a lot of people worked on very harked including the guy who helped pass -- craft the last deficit -- bipartisan deficit-reduction plan in the congress in 1997,
erskine bowles who was then president clinton's chief of staff. he worked with a lost folks, republican-controlled house, republican-controlled senate, a one of the people he worked with was a guy named alan simpson, a republican from wyoming, pretty good deficit hawk in his tas days -- still s the two of them came up with a deficit-reduction plan. a lot of people forget we actually balanced our budget a dozen years ago. we can do this sort of thing. the deficit-reduction plan they came up with then was not just